And they do all this with hand tools, brains and sweat. Incredibly impressive.
There’s a whole series of videos like this.
It’s crazy what you can make with a little ingenuity and local materials.
And they do all this with hand tools, brains and sweat. Incredibly impressive.
There’s a whole series of videos like this.
It’s crazy what you can make with a little ingenuity and local materials.
There are great zombie movies, and horrifically beautiful apocalyptic films.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD, WATERWORLD (hey, I’m kidding)–you get the idea.
So why do zombie apocalypse movies smash into the brick wall of failure?
Zombie comedy? Sure. SEAN OF THE DEAD. Zombie romance? Yeah, they’ve tried that. Zombie drama? Yep.
You’d think this would be like peanut butter and chocolate, two great things that taste even greater when mashed together. But I can’t think of a single zombie apocalypse movie that truly works.
The biggest such film–WORLD WAR Z–went splat, despite the star power of Brad Pitt and a big budget. Why?
I’ve pondered this, downed a pot of coffee and consulted the oracle.
Here’s the deal.
Not because the screenwriter and director are sadistic. The whole point of a horror movie is society getting punished for its sins by the monster, who’s actually the hero.
That’s why Freddy, Jason and all the other horror monsters never truly get killed off.
Slasher movies show teenagers breaking the rules–shoplifting, getting drunk, having premarital sex, lying to their parents about it all–and getting punished by the boogeyman for their sins.
Another big branch of horror movies is about man playing God–inventing super-smart sharks with lasers, creating hybrid genetic experiments that go wrong, or sewing together body parts from the grave and using lightning to reanimate the thing. Then those creations rise up to punish the scientists for their arrogance.
This is why horror movies can fail. If the teenagers or scientists actually win in the end, the movie confuses the message. You might start out rooting for the teeny boppers or mad scientists, but in the end, you’re supposed to see the monsters as agents of rough justice.
Same thing with a zombie movie.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is actually about racism.
DAWN OF THE DEAD is about consumerism, which is why it’s set in a mall.
There’s a primal story that screenwriter Blake Snyder identifies as Monster in the House, where there’s a monster in an enclosed space and either it’s gonna kill you or you’re gonna kill it.
JAWS, ALIEN and FATAL ATTRACTION are all Monster in the House stories.
There’s a big difference between these stories and a true horror movie. The ending is completely opposite.
The shark dies in the end of JAWS, as does the alien and the obsessed, discarded mistress played by Glenn Close.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEAD feature the same enclosed space problem, because it’s good storytelling to put characters in a cage with your monster. But they stay true to the message and let the monsters win, punishing society for our sins.
The storytelling bones of a good apocalyptic movie are completely different than a horror story.
Civilization goes buh-bye, and the fun of an apocalyptic movie is seeing how that happens and what replaces the status quo.
Also, you get to loot the hardware store and the mall. Who doesn’t like to see that on film? Always a good time.
The message of an apocalypse film, though, is that lots of people die because they make bad, selfish choices, while the few heroes who survive make good, unselfish choices.
It just doesn’t work to mix a true zombie movie, where everybody dies as punishment for society’s sins, with an apocalyptic film, with its message of survival if you make the right choices.
So: back to the movie, WORLD WAR Z, which is a confused beast.
If you read the novel–which you should–it’s not a horror story, where everybody gets nom-nommed by the living dead. It’s a true zombie apocalypse story that can work, with the end showing the undead almost destroying the world. They’re only beaten when society makes painful, fundamental changes to work together and win the war.
Hope and survival. That’s the right way to thread the needle and tell a zombie apocalypse story that works. Give us that, Hollywood–Brad Pitt is optional.
Here’s the thing about Survival Lilly–she gets right to it, unlike other YouTubers who seem to think they’re required by law to stand in front of the camera and yak for 10 minutes before they do a SINGLE THING, then chat you up for another five minutes about that solitary thing they did, whereas Lilly just goes bam and starts building a survival shelter.
Lilly doesn’t waste your time. She shows you smart, practical things that don’t require a ton of time, gear or expertise.
Her entire YouTube channel is an apocalyptic gold mine. If you’re into prepping a little or a lot, or simply enjoy zombie movies and dystopian goodness, check her out.
There are three schools of thought here:
(1) Prepare for anything, because you can’t predict what will happen in your lifetime
(2) Get ready for the most likely emergencies, disasters or apocalypse (singular, because There Can Be Only One … at a time), or
(3) Dedicate all your time, money and imagination to preparing solely for your Most Favorite Apocalypse, because the other types are lamer than a Justin Bieber concert—and if loving zombies is wrong, you don’t want to be right.
This matters because what you do to prepare for WATERWORLD: KEVIN COSTNER IS OPTIONAL is far, far different than if you expect a Mad Max wasteland next Tuesday after Kim Jong Il insults the bathroom décor at Mar-a-Lago and the Donald starts mashing buttons on the nuclear suitcase.
This great infographic by the BBC gives us a look at the entire universe of possible, probable and unlikely disasters:
Well done, BBC, just spot on. Terrifying, sure, but good.
Next week, let’s start going through all the major options.
What’s a fun fantasy that won’t happen? What’s the most likely and smart to prep for?
And how should you react to all this?
The worst day of any flavor of apocalypse—killer robots, zombies or The Spanish Flu of 1918 on Steroids—will be Day 1, when civilization as we know it goes buh-bye faster than an airline steward can wave you off a Boeing Dreamliner.
What’s the best way to get ready for the chaos of that first day?
Unless you’re retired or on vacation, you’re typically (a) at work or school, (b) in your happy home, (c) traveling between those two places or (d) running errands and such.
Where you are makes all the difference in the world when the world goes sideways, because most people will have all their useful possessions and loved ones back home, not in their cubicle at work or the trunk of their car.
It also matters because you probably work or study in a city and live somewhere less populated. And when things go south, the last place you want to be is in a city, because that’s where the most trouble will be. Trouble is defined as hordes of zombies, armies of killer robots or scavengers willing to pull a gun so they can loot the mall before you can.
This means you’ll need different plans and contingencies depending on your location when WATERWORLD starts being non-fiction or Donald Trump starts mashing buttons on the nuclear suitcase.
Conventional wisdom would say “home,” which is wrong. Without power, heat and running water, homes will become magnets for scavengers searching for gear and supplies.
The real trouble will be food, which will run out quickly, seeing how semi’s won’t be delivering Doritos to Safeway anymore and farmers won’t be planting and harvesting Doritos anymore in the first place.
Of the essentials of food, shelter and clothing, food will be the toughest problem. Farming isn’t a good answer, since even if you already had a working farm and 10 years of experience as a farmer, the starving masses will show up and devour all your hard work.
So what did smart people do before farming was a thing? Well, the ones who survived were hunters and gatherers. Nimble nomads who followed food sources along with the seasons.
That’s the best strategy, since it keeps you out in the wilderness, close to food and far away from (a) zombies, aliens or killer robots and (b) populated areas where scavengers will be killing each other as they battle over quickly dwindling resources.
This makes it critical to pick a good area with a source of fresh water and a variety of food sources.
That rendezvous point, ideally, would be halfway between home and work/school, so no matter where you are, it’s easy to reach.
“Friends and family” is the obvious answer and the wrong one, since there’s a fifty-fifty chance zombies will show up right in the middle of a staff meeting about TPS reports.
Making it through chaos and craziness all the way to the rendezvous point will be tough. Having a stalwart band of coworkers along for the trip, now, would truly boost your survival chances.
Asking people to meet you at the rendezvous point AFTER things get crazy, well, that won’t work at all. You have to figure this stuff out ahead of time.
Out in the prepper community, you’ll see a crazy number of acronyms. Some of them apply here:
This series of posts hates complicated things, including acronyms. Hates them worse than black licorice and fruitcake. We’re all about simple and sturdy, cheap and sustainable.
Forget having four different sets of bags for different reasons. Keep it simple and have One Backpack of the Apocalypse, a single bag to rule them all.
This backpack will be with you whether you’re at home, at work, at school or stuck in traffic while radio shock jocks pretend to be outraged about something to fill three hours of airtime. How will it faithfully and magically stay by your side with you at work, home and while you commute and do errands? Here’s the trick: you’ll give that One Backpack and a Pair of Hiking Boots a comfy home in the trunk of your automobile.
The question of what goes into a One Backpack of the Apocalypse is deep, with a lot of options for specific teams. It’s worth a few posts to drill down on that.
Here’s the TL;DR version of what you’ll put in there: ways to make fire, filter water, catch food, stay warm, catch food, fix boo-boos, navigate, create shelter and defend yourself. Check out Survival Lilly, who’s from Austria and is completely practical.
P.S. Every loved one, neighbor, cousin you still talk to and coworker you take along can be of whatever shape, size, age, gender or background. Go wild. The lone condition for making them part of your Nimble Band of Nomads is they need to have their own One Backpack of the Apocalypse, because none of this will work if there are 15 people wandering around trying to share a single set of gear. That’s how you all win a Darwin Award.
To get fully prepared, make your rendezvous point a welcoming safe haven.
Bury food and supplies in waterproof containers, like five-gallon paint buckets. Create a rough shelter, whether it’s a lean-to made of logs or a big tent you stash nearby.
While this is a good topic for a post, here’s one smart, easy way to make a shelter with no tools.
Bring your friends out there, wearing their hiking boots and backpacks, and stay one night. Make a campfire, filter water from the nearby stream or lake and figure out what you’re missing now, not after the aliens land and it’s too late.
The last step is to figure out how you’ll migrate and follow food sources along with the seasons.
Migrating doesn’t mean traveling thousands of miles like the birds that fly from South America to Alaska and such. That’s crazy talk. You can accomplish what they do by simply heading into the mountains during the spring and summer, then back down to the valleys and the coast during winters.
The easiest way to do this is to follow rivers, either in a small boat or on foot. Rivers are born as streams on the tops of mountains after Zeus sends a stork and all that. This make navigation easy.
Finally, practice a bit of hunting and gathering. Spend a night or two at this rendezvous point with backup rations that you don’t touch. Practice trapping squirrels and rabbits, picking non-poisonous berries and catching these things I like to call “fish.”
P.S. Hunting big game like deer is a whole different topic. I live in deer country, and know all sorts of friends who also hunt bears and cougars. But this is not my expertise. Cute little deer hang out on my property, knowing that I only shoot photos of them, while the cougars hide in trees and the bears munch all my blackberries. I leave them be. If you want to practice this sort of thing, get a hunting license and buddy up with an expert. Big game is nothing to play around with and even a successful hunt means a lot of hard work to preserve the meat and make use of the fur and hide.
If the zombies rise up, the aliens come down or Mad Max turns into non-fiction, what could truly keep you safe at long range?
Clearly, guns are far more advanced than crossbows, bows, slingshots and other weapons.
HOWEVER: Just as clearly, once a real apocalypse hits, ammunition will go buh-bye, because factories will stop making bullets right when everybody in the world is using them all up in a desperate battle against the undead, the Borg or whatever fashion of apocalypse you favor.
Right off, you have to see firearms as a transitional weapon and a last resort, with precious bullets saved for critical situations while you use sustainable options—bows and arrows, crossbows and slingshots.
So what makes sense?
Hollywood loves pistols, and I’m not against them. Have one myself. Yet there are good reasons why, in a long term SHTF scenario, you wouldn’t pick a pistol as your long-range weapon.
First off, it’s not long range. At all. Handguns are only accurate and effective at close range.
Secondly, you might think the power and capacity of modern handguns balances out the short range. Except shotguns have as much capacity as revolvers are are much more powerful, while many rifles have 30-round magazines with far greater range, accuracy and power.
Arguing for handguns is (a) the fact there are bazillions of them, making it more likely you’ll find one and the ammo for them, (b) the great reliability of modern pistols and revolvers and (c) the intimidation factor, with even an unloaded gun giving you stand-off power against a group armed with melee weapons and (d) the fact that handguns are small and light.
Verdict: A pistol a decent backup weapon, but it shouldn’t be anyone’s primary choice.
Both have their pluses and minuses, along with passionate defenders. The bottom line is AK’s are brutal, simple beasts and more durable. They’re designed to get muddy and dirty but still fire, and the round they use (7.62 mm) is a lot bigger than the 5.56 mm shot by AR’s, which are more advanced and accurate, but more delicate.
You’d think these would be the king of guns, and they’re great, modern weapons … if you have easy access to more ammo. That’s the trouble. AR’s and AK’s make it easy to crank through magazine after magazine of ammunition, and they won’t be making them anymore.
From the sound of this man shooting an AR and an AK on the same course, you’d think these guns were fully auto. Nope. Same semi-autos that you and I can buy in ‘Murica, so yeah, conserving ammo is not something these weapons like to do.
Verdict: If you’re going to pick an assault rifle for a long-term apocalypse, you can’t use modern tactics like covering fire, because your ammo would be gone within the first couple of battles. Get one with a scope, keep it on semi-auto and treat the ammunition like precious gold.
Uzis, Mac-10s, Tommy Guns—the idea for all of these weapons is to use pistol ammo in a machine gun.
And yes, Chuck Norris looked cool with two Uzis.
But true submachine guns aren’t really available to folks without a special license to own automatic weapons. You can buy semi-automatic versions, but those are really just handguns with more capacity than normal.
Verdict: For a gangster in the ’20s smuggling moonshine, submachine guns are great. For our purposes, even if you can find a fully automatic submachine gun, they’re terrible, a handgun on steroids that wastes ammo by design.
Now we’re talking. Most sniper and hunting rifles are bolt action, which is a lot simpler and easier to maintain than the complicated mechanics of a semi-automatic. Bolt-action is more accurate and makes you conserve ammo.
These guns also have the best scopes.
Armies use a variety of sniper rifles, from modified hunting guns to giant .50 caliber monsters. Those are crazy big and heavy, and those massive bullets are actually meant to be used against vehicles and such, not deer, zombies or aliens.
Verdict: Deer rifles are common and proven. You can’t go wrong with a bolt-action deer rifle.
This seems like a silly pick, a child’s toy.
But think about it: you need meat on the campfire every night. There’s no way you’ll be lucky enough to bag a deer whenever you get hungry. The most common sources of meat every day will be things like birds and squirrels, which would disappear in a puff of fur if you shot them.
Slingshots are easy to buy, scavenge or craft. You’ll never run out of ammunition as long as the earth keeps making rocks. And this long-range weapon will probably keep your stomach full for years. They also silent, and a good ambush weapon.
Verdict: Everybody in your party should pack a slingshot.
This is the best of both worlds and the worst of both worlds.
A crossbow is more powerful than a bow (see Option Number 7, below) but far less powerful than a rifle. On the plus sign, they’re silent, unlike guns, yet heavier than a bow.
Crossbows shoot bolts, which you can technically re-use, repair or replace. Yet bolts aren’t easy to craft out in the bush, while arrows are, and good luck repairing a broken crossbow.
Verdict: This one is tough. It sounds like a good choice at first, but the more you think about it, the more it seems meh. A deer rifle or bow seems smarter.
Yes, there are throwing knives, ninja shuriken, boomerangs and bolas. These things exist.
If you want to see what’s out there, go inside your local gas station. For some reason, most gas stations also double as ninja superstores, I kid you not.
Even the higher-quality versions are short-range weapons of dubious value, all of which require a lot of skill and practice to make them remotely effective.
Can you hunt with these things? Not really.
Do they make up for that defect by being amazing combat weapons? No.
Verdict: Come on. Honestly.
In the movies, heroes like Robin Hood can lay waste to dozens of soldiers with their trusty bow.
Bows don’t have the range and power of modern guns. Hunters need a lot more skill and patience when they’re using bows instead of rifles, and you wouldn’t want to go after dangerous game like bears, mountain lions or zombies with just a bow. The margin of error is too tight.
Once again, Kevin Costner stinks it up in a big-budget movie yet somehow points us toward the truth. Bows and arrows are a beautiful option for the apocalypse. They’re easy to make and use, silent and versatile.
Bows and arrows are an especially good pick if you’re being smart, conserving ammo and traveling as a Nimble Nomad with Friends, since one of you can try taking down prey with the bow while the other three in your party are ready with hunting rifles or spears. If that arrow misses the mark and the beast charges, your friends are ready.
Arrows are also completely sustainable, while you can make bows out of scavenged material or out in the middle of the forest.
Verdict: Get a bow and learn to make arrows. DO IT NOW.
Next week: Chapter 10—Prepping for Day 1 of Any Sort of ‘Pocalypse
If (a) zombies come knocking on your back door, (b) aliens land in Manhattan to enslave us or (c) an Angry Space Rock obliterates civilization because Bruce Willis was otherwise occupied, you’ll need to fend for yourself.
That means some kind of makeshift armor along with weapons to hunt for food and defend yourself.
So what’s makes sense?
This series is about being brutally practical, which means the ideal melee weapons would be:
There’s nothing more basic than a knife, which is both a weapon and an essential tool.
So what kind of knife?
Folding knives are nice, small and full of serious flaws. Any sort of mechanism, springs or no springs, can wear out. And no matter how expensive and well-made a folder might be, it won’t be as strong as a full-tang knife.
The other flaw is the lack of a crossguard, which is essential protection in a fight or doing serious work. Without one, any blade will slip and cut your hand to ribbons.
So: you want a non-folder, also known as a “knife.” There are all kinds of varieties. You can’t go wrong with time-tested hunting knives or military K-bars.
The only pitfall here is going too Crododile Dundee / Rambo here and picking the Biggest Knife Known to Man. Make sure the knife you pick is something you can comfortably wear while hiking through rough terrain. Any sort of blade is useless if you have to dig through your pack to grab it.
Also, one of the uses of a knife is speed. You can grab it and use it faster than almost anything else, including a gun. Because the old saying, “Never bring a gun to a knife fight” might not actually be true.
Verdict: Yes, you need a knife, as an essential tool and weapon.
If a knife is essential, a sword is even better, right?
Bigger. Longer. More able to chop and slash.
Movies and books have brainwashed us into thinking swords are amazing, if not magical. And yes, a lightsaber would be the ultimate weapon, if they existed.
However, lightsabers aren’t an option. Also arguing against picking a sword: history and logic.
That being said, people are going to pick swords. It’s like our romance with handguns, which are nothing compared to the power of shotguns and range of rifles. People don’t care. Swords and handguns are catnip to a lot of people. So: if you’re going to pick a sword no matter what, what makes sense?
Though this series of posts is all about cheap and sustainable apocalyptic goodness, going too cheap with a sword is an Achy Breaky Big Mistakey, because most swords out there are meant to look pretty while hung on the wall, not used for combat year after year. The cheaper a sword, the more likely it will break or fly off the hilt.
Not kidding about the “fly off the hilt” bit. Take a look.
At the other extreme, the best possible swords do not make sense, since they’re crazy expensive.
Therefore: check out the wisdom of a Paul Southren, a man who lives and breathes moderately priced swords at sword-buyers-guide.com. Paul field tests and abuses his swords, and his whole schtick is about buying the best quality for a moderate amount of money: $100 to $300, though he does test and review swords that cost a bit more and has a section dedicated to the rare sword under $100 that’s actually decent.
Verdict: Here’s the TL;DR version of Paul’s research: get what Paul calls a heavy duty beater, a mono-tempered sword made from modern steel that’s tempered right and designed to take all kinds of abuse. Check out this page for reviews of katanas and head over to this page for medieval swords.
You see insanely huge, double-bladed battle axes in movies.
That’s because in real life, such things would be heavier than a Volkswagen Bug.
You wouldn’t want to use a modern two-handed axe, the kind designed to cut trees or split wood, because those things are still too heavy to carry around as you march through the wastelands all day, much less use in a real battle. Same thing with pickaxes. All of these monsters are too slow. Anybody could see it coming and dodge the blow.
If you look at actual warfare over the centuries, soldiers did use single-handed axes, which are a lot faster than today’s two-handed axes meant for trees. Check out this discussion of the pros and cons of one-handed axes. This man is both an expert and British, so you have to listen to him.
Verdict: During any sort of apocalypse, you’d want some way of cutting wood for shelter, fuel and tools. So this is a lot like the conversation about a knife: a one-handed axe is both a weapon and an essential tool. Get one.
Economists have a concept called “opportunity cost,” which is a fancy way of saying blowing 2,000 on a high-end katana makes no sense when, for the same money, you could buy 50 top-quality machetes for $40 apiece and equip an army of your closest friends and family.
One sword or a horde? Come on, that’s not even a question.
Machetes also hit our sweet spot: cheap, common and durable.
In my decade-long fight against scotch broom, I’ve bought and used all varieties and brands of machetes. Here’s the deal:
Verdict: Machetes are a great choice, especially the thicker, higher quality ones that can do the job of a sword and an axe.
Here’s why spears and poleaxes rock and are the King of Apocalyptic Blades:
Verdict: Buy or make a Sharp Thing on a Long Pole, the most practical of the blade options.
Any sort of bludgeon is better than fighting barehanded. And sure, brass knuckles would be fine if you live in a terrible neighborhood where people get into fistfights all the time and you want an edge.
In any real apocalypse, the zombies, alien invaders, killer robots or scavengers won’t be getting into fistfights with you. Plus, brass knuckles are typically illegal in most places, which makes them hard to find. And it’s not the sort of thing you can just craft from some old Campbell soup cans and a hammer.
Verdict: Ixnay on the brass knuckles.
Baseball bats don’t take any training to use and are absolutely deadly.
They work equally well against unarmored and armored opponents, are cheap and easy to find.
A few caveats:
Aluminum baseball bats seem like the ultimate choice here. They seem better than wood, right? However: aluminum bats are hollow and designed to hit baseballs or softballs. If you smack them against other, bigger, tougher things, they’ll bend.
Wooden bats are the way to go here.
Verdict: A good option if you want to bash your way through problems.
Yes, I know it has a name, but (a) nobody except total comic book geeks can pronounce it and (b) even when somebody pronounces it right, it sounds like the sound a Swedish cat would make.
I’m talking about hammers of all sorts, from carpenter’s hammers to sledgehammers. They’re great for using against armored opponents, since armor is typically meant to guard against blades.
Sledgehammers seem deadly, but they suffer from the same problem as two-handed axes designed for cutting down trees or splitting wood: too heavy to be nimble enough in combat.
A long-handled carpenter’s hammer would do the job. Cheap, easy to find if you need more and versatile, since it’s useful for scavenging or crafting.
Verdict: Pack a hammer.
Not pepper spray. A medieval mace is even better than a baseball bat or a hammer for dealing with armored opponents.
A real mace is an amazing choice here.
The trouble is finding one. Unless you buy a bunch, now, you won’t randomly find them in the rubble of the wasteland and won’t be able to craft one out of scrap metal.
Verdict: A beautiful option that’s simply too rare to be practical.
Those are the basic options for blades and bludgeons. As for bad ideas, there’s a treasure trove of terrible choices.
Any movie set in the Middle Ages has knights with swords, shields and flails, which seem deadly.
Two problems with flails: First, they’d be pretty slow. Maybe you successfully whack somebody upside their helmet. It would take a while to recover and swing your flail at a second enemy, and an effective blow has to be completely accurate. Compare that to a sword, where the entire length is sharp and any sort of contact will draw blood.
Second, flails weren’t really a thing. At all.
They’re big, roaring, imposing monsters and yes, nobody wants to get cut by a chainsaw.
Trouble is, chainsaws and require fuel, which rules this out as an option.
Another nail in the coffin: even if you had a magic chainsaw that never rain out of fuel, actually using one in combat against armored opponents would be clumsy. You’d have to get awfully close and they’d need to sit still while you chewed away.
If you’re Bruce Lee, sure, nunchucks look amazing and deadly.
For everybody else, these aren’t an option. It’s super easy to hit yourself instead of your opponent. They don’t have much range and would bounce off most armor. Plus, instead of looking like Bruce Lee, you’ll probably look like this dude.
Nobody wants to come up against a flamethrower. You run away to avoid becoming barbeque, right?
Actual flamethrowers are incredibly hard to find. They also require fuel, which is stored in a crazy heavy tank on your back.
If you actually had a sustainable source of flammable liquid—say, grease from the cooking fire—it’d be smarter to bottle that up and make a supply of Molotov cocktails.
Bottom line: You can’t predict when and where melee combat breaks out. The right options work as both a weapon and a tool, which means your best bets are a knife, a one-handed axe, a hammer and/or a spear, which gives you the most range and serves as a handy walking stick.
Though you’re going to pick a sword no matter what I say, so pick the right one.
Also: a tough, high-quality machete (not the floppy cheap kind at the hardware store) can take the place of a sword and an axe, plus they’re cheap.
Next week: Chapter 9—Getting Real about Long Range Weapons
In any real apocalypse, fire and water will be essential, as in, “without them, you will essentially die quicker than the box office of ISHTAR.”
Without a way to make fire, you can’t keep warm at night or cook your food to make sure each bite of bunny or muskrat isn’t full of nasty germs and parasites.
Without a way to find, purify and carry water, you’ll dehydrate and become human jerky for the zombies.
Yet many of the standard ways of making fire and purifying water make absolutely no sense during an apocalypse of whatever flavor, and yes, that includes climate-change causing WATERWORLD, because salt water isn’t what scientists call “potable” and civilians call “drinkable.”
Lighters are built to do this, right? This is their job.
Except lighters run on fuel. I don’t care if you buy the fanciest Zippo in the world or stockpile a case of cheap plastic Bics: you will run out of fuel.
And yes, a Bic + hairspray = a tiny flamethrower, but such a thing is only good against hornet nests and such, and completely useless against zombies, aliens and scavengers.
Verdict: Ixnay on the ighter-lays, for they are unsustainable.
These are a staple for hikers and campers. Even if you fall into the river and get them soaked, these reliable suckers will still create a spark, light a campfire and keep you warm at night.
Matches of any sort have the same fatal flaw as lighters: nobody will be making them anymore. It’s not a long-term choice.
Even if you’re tempted to put some in your One Backpack of the Apocalypse and switch to a different method later, this is a bad idea. Practice that other, sustainable method instead.
Verdict: Nopity nope.
This is the famous method of making fire when you don’t have a Zippo in your back pocket or a box of matches: You spin a stick really fast, or take off your shoelaces and make this complicated thing to spin a stick even faster while the bottom of the stick sits in a notch of wood.
TV and movies have shown this so often that unless you grew up in an ice cave, you’ve seen it 100 times. Here’s a smart man doing it from scratch, and even he takes a long time just to get the right materials.
There are other ways of making fire that are far easier.
Verdict: Maybe, if you’re desperate and easier methods didn’t work.
Bear Grylls uses this. You take a nine-volt battery and touch the working bits to some steel wool and BAM, there’s fire.
There’s a lot going for this method. Unlike other techniques, it’s pretty foolproof. I can’t think of a way to screw this up. And the material needs are small and light. I like it.
Verdict: Even though this is definitely unsustainable over the long haul, this method is so fast, surefooted and easy, it’s worth including as part of a first phase sort of plan, where you need to do things quick and easy before switching to more long-term options. This one is like picking Batman in a fight against Superman, when every ounce of logic says Supes wins, but your heart says nah, Batman is too smart and Superman is too lame.
Now we’re talking. There are a hundred variations on this, and other metals involved aside from steel, like magnesium, and don’t ask me how all this works except magnesium = fire, which is Good.
Flint and steel is completely portable, reliable and sustainable. You’ll have a knife, so the steel part is taken care of, meaning all you really need to carry around is the flint or some fancy magnesium-type alternative.
Verdict: This is your go-to firemaking method. Learn it, practice it, embrace it.
If you burn some wood, paper, cotton or other burnable shebang, then put it in tiny metal box and screw the lid on, Sir Fire gets separated from one true love, Princess Oxygen, and his little heart is broken. Sir Fire falls into a deep, dark depression—actually, a coma—and goes dormant.
You can put that metal tin in your pack or pocket all day. Once the sun says goodnight and you need a campfire, pull out the tin, open the lid to re-introduce Princess Oxygen to Sir Fire and watch the embers spark as they embrace.
Here’s the thing: keep a healthy char box going and you never have to make fire again. You own it. You control it like the Fremen controlled the galaxy’s supply of spice, and when you control a thing, you can make really bad movies about starring Kyle MacLachlan.
Verdict: Char boxes are the best thing ever. This is your apocalyptic jam.
Protip A: Tinder
Protip B: Kindling
You can survive without food for weeks. Without clean water, it’s game over, man.
The emphasis is on clean. Unless you’re in a desert, water itself will be pretty easy to get. Drinking it, though, will make you sick.
And there are different kinds of sick, many of which will kill you, some of them involving plain old germs and others involving parasites that make the chest burster from aliens seem like a friendly doggo.
So: purifying water will be a huge deal.
This is the standard method and it’s proven to work. Pop a couple of pills in your dirty water, wait for the pills to work their magic, then drink.
This is a good method if you’re camping or able to stop by REI to pick up more tablets.
During any sort of apocalypse, water purifying tablets will run out about as fast as .22 LR rounds.
These are cheap, light and re-usable, the three Holy Grails of this series.
You can throw a dozen of these in your pack to trade with people who ran out of water tablets or didn’t think about water as they went full Rambo.
The only trouble with these filter straws is volume.
Verdict: Definitely put water filter straws in your One Backpack of the Apocalypse.
Boiling water kills all germs and parasites. It also has side benefits, like the option of cooking food.
If you make a campfire every night and boil water, you’d have enough for days. You need a suitable container for boiling water, which means a bush pot.
Verdict: Boiling water whenever you make fire is smart and completely sustainable.
Say you’re absolutely without gear. No water tablets, no filter straws or pump and can’t make fire.
Natural filters are a good last-ditch option.
Here’s what you do: make layers of straw, grass, sand, charcoal and anything else that might filter out germs or parasitic nonsense. Pour water on the top of your contraption and let it drip through at the bottom.
Verdict: This is slow and imperfect, but a lot better than nothing. You can improve this sort of thing with bits of cloth in between layers.
This is a filter straw on steroids: bigger, faster, stronger.
It solves the problem of volume with straws and creates all kinds of safe, filtered water in a hurry.
Verdict: A great, sustainable option. Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes.
Next week: Chapter 8—Blades, Bludgeons and Bad Ideas
Looting the local mall is a staple of zombie and disaster movies, and yes, the idea is not only great entertainment on the big screen, it also (2) makes good sense if a real apocalypse happened.
HOWEVER: You’d have to do this right. Because there are real troubles standing between you and driving a stolen U-Haul down the aisles of Home Depot.
No matter what flavor apocalypse you favor—a giant space rock plowing into the Atlantic, aliens landing to make us mine unobtanimum all day, a supervolcano goes boom or zombies (fast or slow) rise up—everybody is going to have the same idea: loot the local mall.
Things will kick off long before police and civilization breaks down. Store will be jammed with people buying up essentials: canned food, batteries, blankets, generators, ammo, everything.
And yes, this will make the worst excesses of Black Friday look like a holiday.
It will get more interesting after the apocalypse of your choice, with survivors roaming those same stores, except they’ll be pack shotguns instead of VISA cards, and they’ll be a lot more motivated to fill their shopping cart.
Long after whatever Extremely Bad Thing turns things upside down, scavengers will set up camp close to shopping malls and stores. Truly organized and ambitious bands of survivors might turn the local mall into their actual base. Because why commute?
Say your local Home Depot didn’t get emptied by shoppers before the Extremely Bad Thing and is somehow clear of zombies and scavengers after everything went Mad Max.
Let’s pretend there are perfect conditions and nothing to worry about. The store is yours, so go wild.
Here’s the trouble: how will you haul away all that loot?
Not on foot, especially if you’re already carrying all your wordly possessions in a backpack.
Not on bicycle or horseback, though those two options make a lot of sense.
You’re gonna need something bigger.
If you manage to cart off all sorts of valuable stuff without suffering any casualties, great. The next problem is keeping it safe from the elements and other survivors.
Wherever you hide the loot has to be a long-term solution, since staying in a permanent bunker or fortress isn’t a smart option. Even the best-stocked bunker will eventually run out of MREs and water.
You’ll need to travel with the seasons and follow migrating food sources.
So: how can you loot a mall, then stash all that stuff somewhere safe enough that if you head south for the winter, all those valuable treasures will still be there when you return come spring?
Even if you hotwired a fleet of U-Hauls and RV’s, there’s no way you and your friends could possibly loot an entire mall. There’s too much stuff.
You have to pick the most essential items.
When everything is free for the taking, that’s a hard decision to make. The temptation will be to throw anything you like into your shopping cart.
This is something you’ll need to decide, as a group, before you go in there. And this has to be a team effort. A lone wolf has no shot of pulling it off, because there will be other groups looking to do the same thing. And they won’t want to share.
There are good reasons to go ixnay on the oppingmallay, despite the fact it has a Regal Cinema while strip malls and big box stores tend to have a Panda Express.
Take a look at this floor plan for an average indoor mall:
That’s a maze, with far too many entrances, exits and hiding spots.
You’d need an army to secure every entrance before clearing out each tiny store. Only then could you move on to Sears (no apostrophe, don’t ask why) and Macy’s (yes apostrophe, because grammar).
Big box stores and strip malls are much easier to secure than an indoor mall. Plus we can do them in sequence instead of putting our eyes on swivel for zombies.
With your average big box store or strip mall joint, there’s just one main entrance and a back door with a loading dock. Let’s back up the bus on that sentence for a second: loading doooock. Oh yes.
Big Box stores also specialize, which gives us more selection.
For a dozen good reasons, relying on a motor vehicle during any sort of apocalypse is an Achy Breaky Big Mistakey. HOWEVER: This is one situation where you absolutely, positively have to get behind the wheel, at least temporarily.
Sedans aren’t a good choice. Can’t hold much loot.
Station wagons and SUV’s are better.
You’d think a semi would be perfect, except most people don’t know how to drive a semi and you need a haul your loot up a long ramp to get it inside.
Best bet: U-Haul trucks. There common, they’re easy to drive and they’ll hold a lot of stuff. Grab your friends and nab two or three of these before heading to the shopping center of choice.
Speed is essential. You want to load up on treasures, roll them into your borrowed U-Haul, stack them neatly and skip back inside the store.
Shopping carts are the enemy of speed. They make it easy to put things inside and hard to take out.
This is why your first store should be in the Home Depot / Lowe’s family, where you can grab handtrucks and wheelbarrows right off.
Here’s a short list of unsustainable items people will fight over to grab first, compared to the smart, sustainable alternative that you and your friends will take instead:
|Unsustainable||Sustainable and smart|
|Flashlights, batteries and generators||Lanterns and kerosene|
|Guns and ammunition||Bows, crossbows and slingshots|
|Chainsaws and power tools||Regular saws and hand tools|
|Lighters and matches||Flint and steel|
|Canned food||Wire, cordage and traps|
|Perishable food and vegetables||Seeds to plant|
The first stop should be a hardware/home improvement store like Home Depot or Lowe’s.
Here’s why: carrying things by hand stinks. Begin in the garden section to grab wheelbarrows and hand trucks.
Stay there to fill your wheelbarrow full of every seed packet of edible goodness in sight and load up on machetes, axes, shovels and other good stuff right by the garden gnomes and garden hoses.
Sidenote: You would not believe some of the deadly stuff they have in the garden section, and it’s all sturdy, well-made stuff, which is in stark comparison to your average gas station ninja superstore, where the nonsense they sell (ninja swords for $12, throwing stars for $5) won’t cut through a snowman. Not kidding.
Check out this thing, which Home Depot calls a ditch blade. I call it a The Beheader of Giants.
After you pillage the gardening section, head inside the store proper to the tool section for heavy work gloves, hammers, crowbars and multi-tools.
Then swing over to the nuts-bolts-screws-nails aisle to snag a variety of boxes, especially oversized bolts and such you won’t be able to scrounge from the average garage of private home.
Then hit the rope and chain section for cordage, chains and padlocks (important!) before cruising over to grab all the Gorilla Glue / Crazy Glue / Super Crazy Gorilla Glue and such you can find.
Big 5, Dicks and other sports stores are pretty common.
Here’s why you want to head there second: a sports store is a great source for backpacks, hiking boots, socks and camping material: sleeping bags, tents, compasses, canteens, rain gear, fishing poles, slingshots, bows and arrows, crossbows, cheap guns and ammo, knives and clothing.
This is also your best bet to pick up practical armor, which is a topic deep enough for future post all by itself.
For now, just know that imitating the body armor of the Army and Marines isn’t a real option. What soldiers wear is incredibly heavy. Once you get shot, whatever panel that got hit needs to be replaced, which you won’t be able to do.
Sports stores have the kind of armor that’s sustainable and works against the main threat you’ll face: melee combat. Football helmets and pads are good protection against blunt instruments and blades.
Even better: motorcycle and mountain bike armor, which is tough leather with Kevlar inserts. This sort of armor is also easy to move in.
A little pharmacy may not seem like a top target, yet it’s a gold mine.
First aid kits, crutches, allergy pills, sunscreen, antibiotics, sunglasses, prescription drugs, toilet paper—the best stuff from a pharmacy is life-saving gold and perhaps the best trading material possible.
Let everybody else stock up on gold bars and AK-47s. When they run out of ammo, which will happen sooner than you think, what will they do with those heavy, useless gold bars? You can’t eat them. They won’t keep you warm at night. What are you gonna do, make necklaces out of them?
Raid a pharmacy and you’ll have what everyone else wants and needs. Because people will inevitably get cut, shot, sick or infected.
Any option you choose has to protect your liberated loot from the elements, wild animals and other survivors.
If you get a bunch of plastic bins, garbage bags and five-gallon buckets from your first top at Home Depot, you can hide and/or bury your loot all over the place. Just keep a map of where you put it all.
Unloading all the stuff into a safe building seems like a good choice until you think about how long any building will be safe when every single person is hungry, wandering around and breaking into places to scrounge for food and stay warm.
The best bets: (a) hide your fleet of U-Hauls in plain sight by driving them into a junk yard, (b) drive them far off into the woods on logging roads and ram those suckers into the forest until the wheels don’t move, (c) bury the moving trucks in junk, dirt and debris or (d) lock them with multiple padlocks and chains, then park them back-to-back, so nobody can get in until you return with the keys.
You can also make cheap, waterproof shebangs that can store a lot of stuff. PVC pipe is a good bet.
Rule Number 10: There’s nothing wrong with pre-looting
Ethically and morally, it’s completely wrong to loot a store today. During a zombie apocalypse or alien invasion, the moral compass changes polarity, because (a) it’s a question of survival and (b) when society collapses, there won’t be any cashiers waiting to take your checks, banks to cash those checks or functioning corporations to make a profit.
HOWEVER: There’s always the option of beating the crowds and the craziness by doing this carefully and comfortably, without worrying about getting munched by zombies or shot by other scavengers. Buy and cache a little every week, writing down what you stored and where you stored it.
It’s not hard to buy and cache a little every week. Because you’re going the smart, sustainable route instead of the expensive, unsustainable path, this won’t be expensive, either.
Below are some different ideas for pre-looting and caching:
Next week: Chapter 6—Suit Up with Seriously Practical Armor
As we discovered from the first three posts, you can’t count on (a) lounging around in a bunker that never runs out of food and water or (b) cruising the wastelands in a vehicle. Which means (c) bushwhacking around while carrying all your possessions in a backpack.
In apocalyptic movies, heroes tend to sprint around in ripped T-shirts with a single weapon. You never see them hefting around a sleeping back and a bunch of food.
Meanwhile, video game heroes carry around an entire gun store, plus food and medical supplies. If you’re playing a Fallout Game, the hero can scavenge entire cars and somehow lug all that around while running and fighting.
A huge part of really prepping for any sort of apocalypse—whether you favor Mad Max nuclear wastelands, alien invaders or zombies—has to be (1) figuring out the essential gear to put in your One Backpack of the Apocalypse, then (2) putting on good hiking boots and actually trudging through the wilderness for a mile, then two miles, then over downed trees, across streams and all that.
Modern soldiers in the U.S. Army and Marines carry about 60 pounds of gear. On long-term patrols, maybe double that.
However: no sane human being should plan on lugging around 120 pounds of stuff all day, every day, during any sort of long-term apocalypse. Even slow zombies are not THAT slow.
MythBusters did a nice bit about this. How much you carry, and how you do it, matters more than you think.
There are all sorts of cheap, pre-packed survival backpacks these days. We got a couple from Costco to leave in the car. They’re great for a short-term problem, like a car breakdown in the middle of nowhere or an earthquake. These backpacks just aren’t a long-term solution.
What you really want is something proven to work that also works for you, specifically.
If you want to get the best of the best, hop on down to someplace like REI and actually put on backpack after backpack.
The cheaper option that doesn’t sacrifice practicality is a local Army surplus store. The military knows a lot about backpacks (they call them rucksacks) and how to make everything modular and attach to other bits you’re wearing. The old system was called ALICE; the new hotness is MOLLE, which is pronounced Molly and stands for Modular Lightweight Loadbearing Equipment.
Here’s a good comparison:
This is a trick question, because eventually this won’t matter. Not one bit. Even the best, most expensive boots on the planet will wear out.
You’ll have to repair them. Eventually, those boots will be beyond repair. And this will be a big, big deal. Because you can’t walk around barefoot.
Repairing and replacing the soles is the biggest issue. Tires are a great material for soles. Tire rubber is insanely tough and will last a long, long time. Plus it will always be easy to find and scavenge old tires. The tough bit will be cutting it. A hacksaw might be required.
The design for this is important. Glue will be hard to find, and the last thing you want to do is wrestle a hungry polar bear, while the second-to-last thing you want to do is try to sew tire rubber onto the remaining bits of your hiking boots. No needle is that strong.
The best idea is use rope or straps. Here’s one way to make sandals out of a tire and some straps, and they smartly don’t try to pierce the bottom of the sole, which would stink in terms of waterproofing. Well done.
There’s no perfect sock, and even if you had a pair, they’ll eventually get holes.
The best idea is to wear two pairs of socks. The first layer is a thin sock to cling to your feet. If you have to scavenge socks, thin white athletic socks work for this. The second pair of socks is good, thick wool for cushioning. This way, you don’t get blisters.
Wool is the only way to go here, and with most of your clothing. Remember these words: cotton kills, wool thrills.
Fire: A way to make fire plus dry tinder. The quick answer here is a flint and steel plus a waterproof container full of dryer lint (free!) or cotton balls rolled in vaseline.
Water: Some sort of container to hold water plus a method to decontaminate it, such as a filter straw.
Warmth: Any sort of way to keep warm at night, whether it’s extra clothing, a wool blanket or a lightweight sleeping bag. This is crucial.
Wood: A way to cut or chop wood for fuel and shelter. Hauling a honking big full-size axe around isn’t an option. A hand axe, a heavy machete or a folding hand saw would work.
First-aid supplies: Absolutely essential. There are also military surplus first-aid kits that are a lot more hardcore than the dinky civilian kits at the grocery store. Get one.
Rope: Paracord is light and incredibly useful. Tie a bunch of logs together and you’ve got a raft. Lash your knife to a pole and you have a spear. Make a series of snares and you’ve got bunny stew tonight instead of a rumbling tummy.
Charmin: Maybe your neighbor is buying gold bars and putting them in a big safe, thinking gold will be worth more than boring paper money if things go bad. Instead of handing over valuable purple euros for mere ounces for gold, stock up on scads of toilet paper and put more than you need in the backpack. Toilet paper works as tinder to start a fire and, mark my words, soft toilet paper will be far, far more than gold once the zombies go nom-nom-nom.
A long-range weapon: A rifle, bow, crossbow, slingshot—something to help roast dinner on your campfire at night.
Food: You can’t count on living off the land every day. To start out with, the One Backpack of the Apocalypse needs high-calorie goodness that won’t go bad, like jerky, protein bars and MREs.
A knife: Not a folding knife. A full-size knife with a hilt, and none of that Rambo nonsense with a hollow hilt full of fishing hooks and a compass on the bottom.
This is a big topic, and future posts will break down each of these items into various options:
Endurance alone isn’t enough. Say you can put the gym treadmill on a 10 percent incline and power-walk at 4 miles an hour for six hours. That’s amazing. It’s just not the same as bushwhacking through the forest or trudging through miles of sand while the sun tries to roast you.
Folks trying to make get into the Special Forces train for what they call ruck marches, which is exactly what we’re looking for here. The goal of this training program is to finish an 18-mile march carrying a 50-pound ruck in 4.5 hours.
They include strength building, like squats, because you need strength in your legs to go uphill while carrying weight, and you really need it to climb over downed trees and other obstacles like walls or cliffs.
For homework, find a good backpack, stuff it with the essentials, put on some hiking boots and see how comfortable it is to hike a mile or two. Then adjust what you’re carrying, figure out what gave you blisters, and hike double that the next weekend.
Next week: Chapter 5—Yes, Any Sort of Apocalypse Means Looting the Mall